Raise your hand if you LOVE writing artists statements!
Rarely does someone enjoy the precess. Personally, I've written hundreds of artist statements, cover letters, references, reviews, and bios for other people, but when it comes to writing my own artist statement it tends to take me 2 or 3 days to even get started.
Here are 5 things that can help when writing an artist statement.
1. DESCRIBE YOUR SPECIFIC PROCESS. Sometimes your process is all magical with prayer crystals and stars and quasars and whatnot. More often, though, your process is a bit mundane or repetitive. There is value in every type of creative process. In one artist statement I described how I painted while home schooling my son. That collaborative effort between me and my son (at the time he was a toddler) informed my work. While having a child limited my work in some ways, it also amplified a deficit in many fine arts spaces. My artist statement became centered around navigating that challenge.
Thanks to that artist statement I was awarded a grant and created a large scale downtown mural in Maryland. Your process may involve sustainability, beadwork, tech, meditation, intense academic research, or any number of activities. Use the space in your artist statement to describe that process. You can always edit down. The main goal in your first draft is to walk away with a few sentences that you're happy with.
2. LET TWO PEOPLE READ YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT. These two people should be very specific. First, show your second or third draft to a friend or colleague who adores you and/or your work. They don't have to be a seasoned art critic or even a good writer. This person can help you with the pathos of your artist statement. After another revision, you should hand off your statement to a mentor or professional in your field. This can be a peer as well. It's a good idea to get feedback from someone who is familiar with trends in your genre. Sometimes you can find virtual or in-person (COVID-willing) groups where artists or writers will take turns reading, revising, and critiquing each other's artist statements.
3. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. I know it sounds simple, but some foundations and institutions will reject you simply for going over the word limit or including information that they specifically asked applicants to exclude. As much as an artist statement is about expressing who you are, it's also about demonstrating to the art world that you know how to follow directions. being controversial is one thing (and not a bad thing, mind you), but unless the guidelines violate your moral code or have some racist/sexist/homophobic aspect I suggest you pay close attention to the guidelines. It can set you apart from other applicants with similar or more robust credentials.
4. READ OTHER ARTIST STATEMENTS. One of my favorite artists is Sanford Biggers. His work is immensely captivating. When I was preparing for my first solo exhibit I read a New York Times article about him. I thought about the sort of review I'd write about Biggers' work from a fan perspective. It helped for me to step out of myself and write about myself and my creative process as if I were my biggest fan. A lot of artists--particularly marginalized artists-struggle with the trap of being humble (shout out to writer Minda Honey). So often, we're taught not to be too loud or take up too much space. Then when it comes time for a resume or RFP, we have trouble boasting about our success or taking credit for our journey. My suggestion for artists struggling with an artist statement is to write an artist statement for your favorite artist. Whether they're a painter, actor, comedian, model, photographer, poet, or whatever. The stakes are low so go for it. Then take a day away from the writing and come back to it. Use those same descriptions for your own artist statement. Talk about yourself and your process like you ar your own biggest fan. That confidence makes a difference.
5. SUBMIT! This is another one that should be a no-brainer, but it's hard to put yourself out there. Even if you think you can do better or you think you should wait until next year's deadline, just fight that urge. You won't get accepted if you never submit your application. Rejection is part of the process, but honestly there's a great chance you'll get the fellowship or residency that's perfect for you.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Writing an artist statement can suck, but once you find your groove it's a really great feeling to be able to get part of who you are down on paper. There is really no wrong way to write a great artist statement. Just remember that you are an artist. Period.
You got this.